In my previous post and inspired by: Management is what we do – and Leadership is who we are, I touched on the subject that our leadership capacity is linked to the state we are in. Who we are comes out in our character and our character shows up primarily in our interactions with others.
So the way we see the world – what we hold to be true or believe is the foundation for our state. If you believe that people with red hair are more temperamental than people with fair hair, then that influences your state whenever you are interacting with people with red hair. That is a very simple way of explaining it but I am sure you get my drift.
So when we talk about leadership, the dominant existing belief or paradigm around leadership is based on a thinking which is called Transactional Leadership. Its source is Taylorism and scientific management. And before that, the term ‘homo economicus,’ the economical human, which briefly means that a human being is a rational person who only acts in his own interest.
We could also use a simpler term and call it the Something-for-something system.
How the Something-For-Something System Works
Transactional leadership is what happens in most organizations today.
You come in to work and give some of your time in return for a salary. If you work a bit harder, or a little bit more, or a little bit better, you have an expectation that you will also be rewarded for it — a bonus, overtime pay, a promotion, or whatever.
If you don’t work so hard or don’t do your job very well, it is built into the model that you can expect some kind of ‘punishment’.
Basically, you come to work because it is in your own interest. You need the money so you can pay your rent, feed the kids, or play golf during the weekend. It’s a something-for-something kind of thinking which has thousands of years behind it.
Just think of the expression, “work/life balance,” which would imply that work is not life. Today it is the existing paradigm governing our thinking about work in a large part of society.
The Game We Play
If the employer and the employee, or in practical terms, the manager and the employee, have a relationship which basically is about something–for-something, then it very easily becomes a game where you, as employee, try to get away with doing as little as possible while at the same time getting the maximum amount out.
In that perspective, you could say that from the employee’s perspective, you have actually won something if you managed to do a little bit less and still get paid the same for it. This is, of course, even more so in the case where the employee is in a situation where the job is boring or in other ways not inspiring.
The management role in an organization that practices transactional leadership is not very inspiring either, because what this means is that the manager’s most important role is to control whether or not the organization is actually getting the output that the organization is paying for. That means time-stamping, control sheets, registration, serious conversations, the possibility of written warnings, and eventually, the ultimate punishment – layoffs.
In a transactional world, an effective manager is a person who distributes reward and punishment in such a way that he maximizes the output of the employee. That is the bottom line success criteria.
Unfortunately, a lot of research shows that this management style is not actually the most productive. It’s not something that creates an extraordinary organization or fantastically enthusiastic and loyal customers. It produces something that is often okay but rarely fantastic. It’s built into the model that it has to be like that; it is all that can happen, as long as we have that mindset.
Now you may wonder, “But what about all those modern organizations who are offering bright canteens, fresh fruit, and football games in the hallways? Aren’t they doing something right?”
Well, that depends.
Because it is not about the fresh fruit and football games – in some organizations they are offered as part of the something-for-something deal – in other organizations, they are offered as part of a different way of thinking about work – we will get to that shortly.
Management by Exception
In a transactional world, the manager leads by exception. By that, I mean that the manager is actually only exercising their management role when something is not working according to the plan, not living up to the expectations. Only when somebody’s not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, do they put on their leadership cap and do something… maybe.
Maybe, because as most of us don’t actually enjoy being bossy, the management role very easily turns into non-management – something I only do if I absolutely must.
If things are going sort of reasonably OK, then there’s no real reason to do much, is there? It becomes a sort of ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ atmosphere. And in the organizations that are really bad, the supervisor, who is supposed to manage his front-line, gets this same treatment from his department head, who gets exactly the same laissez-faire management from the division VP or whatever. The something-for-something culture runs all the way through the system. Not exactly an inspiring work environment. Everyone is in the same basic state.
Now, I hope you are beginning to see what the problem is.
As long as we understand the world from a transactional paradigm, the something-for-something mindset, we aren’t going to get any further. We are stuck.
We need a new paradigm.
If we are to shift our state, we need to change how we see work and people in organisations.